Saturday, July 09, 2011

A different Thursday

A normal, run-of-the-treadmill day does not start with the delivery of an egg. It arrived by parcel post, addressed to this resolute digital native who typically receives... apart from the annual utilities bill... only junk mail. A hen's egg, packed in a stout cardboard box with abundant synthetic straw for protection, can not be written off as junk.

My evenings do not usually extend to an hour after midnight, nor find me in probably the most exclusive bar in Munich, and certainly not in pleasant conversation with a captivating young lady... newly met... who sort of allowed me to call her Buffy. A Google image search in the cold light of dawn confirmed a certain resemblance, so it wasn't just the Sauvignon. She had recently returned from Ulan Bator, where she had doubtless freed countless Mongolian yurts of vampires.

Although the matutinal egg was perhaps a harbinger of atypical things to come I nevertheless completed the day's translations as always and made the routine late afternoon visit to my client's office to load my texts into their Content Management System and build the updated web pages.

The gallery doors would open for the vernissage at six in the very warm summer evening.

Bernheimer Fine Old Masters is an establishment I pass regularly, on my way from my favourite bookshop to the U-Bahn station. Founded in Munich in 1864 it is a gallery of some eminence with a London presence in the form of the Bernheimer-Colnaghi (the latter art dealership having been established in 1760). But moving with the times the Bernheimers now also take photography very seriously, with the charming Blanca Bernheimer curating exhibitions of work by Horst P. Horst, Annie Liebowitz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Other shows featured the photography of people I have actually known, Helmut Newton, Lucien Clergues and Jean-Loup Sieff. And were it not for the fact that Jean-Loup's prints where on display from last November through January... exactly the duration of my last stay in Abu Dhabi... I would certainly have made my first visit to the gallery then.

But Thursday's vernissage was to mark the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Mirella Ricciardi.

Mirella Ricciardi in Kenya, 1969

Here... were I to attempt to elucidate my connection with Mirella in detail... things would start to get very complex indeed. She and her husband, Lorenzo, were little short of dazzling when they turned up in my Paris/Saint-Tropez life in the seventies. Lorenzo is described thus in an article in Wired Magazine...

"The scene into which my friend had installed himself sounded good... caretaking an enclave about thirty kilometres north of Mombasa, where an old Arab slaver's estuary called Kilifi Creek hits the pale Indian Ocean. This place is owned by a world-class eccentric named Lorenzo Ricciardi, who numbers among his many accomplishments having played Jesus Christ in Ben Hur. Lorenzo's little piece of paradise is a collection of thatch-roofed villas and gardens so riotously floral as to be almost tacky. He calls it African Rainbow, and often lends it out to his friends."

And, of course, Africa is the theme which Mirella Ricciardi made her own as a photographer at the start of the seventies. The success of her book Vanishing Africa certainly influenced publishers to give their attention to the work of Peter Beard and Leni Riefenstahl in this domain.

There was nearly a collaboration with Mirella during my years in the Sandlands which would have concentrated not on Africa as such but on the Arabian dhow, a vessel which resonates for both of us. Future collaboration is a possibility... but that's not the story of last Thursday.

Thursday evening's cast of characters is now assembling. Blanca Bernheimer... Mirella Ricciardi and her daughter Amina... and then comes the 'family' element. Marita Coustet was my predecessor as manager of the photographer David Hamilton and I have known her since 1975. Marita has a long history with Lorenzo and Mirella and when she comes to visit Munich she brings with her from Paris an aura of bourgois-bohème that is intoxicating. And she is the god-mother of my daughter and so with my ex that adds three more ladies to the list. There was also a young Berlin fashion designer, Birthe, and another old friend of mine, Helle, who used to be one of David's favourite models.

 There was a need to gather after the vernissage ended for refreshments. The only fitting venue was Schumann's in the lovely Hofgarten, built in 1613-1617 by Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria as an Italian style Renaissance garden. Tables under the massive trees are not that easy to get, but when the requirement is to welcome twelve exceptional women accompanied by only two men... things have a way of working themselves out.

It would be understatement to report that the conversation at our long table was fascinating. There were tales about other exhibitions… a gripping account of travels in Mongolia with pack horses… recall of MireIla’s appearance as herself in Antonioni’s unforgotten film ‘l’Eclisse’… I was most struck by the fact that it is in my experience so rare to be able to engage in a challenging and intense dialogue with someone of my own generation... Mirella has no silly vanity about being eighty years old.

There had to be a thunderstorm on Thursday evening. But it waited until the ladies had enjoyed their desserts. And then there was a deluge of proportions which Mirella claimed was convincingly tropical. A general retreat to the shelter of the arcades ensued, where Schumann's helpful staff set up chairs in little conversation groups and Charles himself, probably Germany's best know bar owner, distributed cushions and blankets to make this improvised accommodation more comfortable.

Flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and for me a feeling of being happily torn out of my everyday routine and my tendency to settle for a somewhat misanthropic lifestyle. When it got late and departures were announced I decided that I wanted to prolong this... for me exceptional episode... and declared that I would remain at Schumann's for a final glass of Sauvignon. And Buffy asked if I would like to have company.

Not my usual Thursday, then. And yesterday, Friday, by pure chance I ran into Mirella again and we were able to chat for another hour or so. Equidistant between Bernheimer and the place where I buy my paperbacks is the Literaturhaus Café where a beer in contemplative solitude tastes wonderful at the end of the day... but even better in the company of one such as Mirella.

As for the egg which was the start of all this... It sits next to my laptop, still protected in a piece of bubble-wrap. On the shell is stencilled the word 'Hope' in bold capital letters. It seems to be the object central to an interactive art project I have been invited to participate in.

I fear you have not heard the last of the egg. And 'Hope' fitted perfectly on Thursday.

No comments: